Nova's guards outgun Purdue's bigs
Almost every Purdue fan came into Monday night looking forward to seeing how the new-ish look Boilers would handle a test versus one of the best teams in the nation...the reigning national champion Villanova Wildcats. The good news is apparent by the 76-79 final score; Purdue competed. The bad news is Purdue couldn't come away with a home victory versus one of the nation's elite teams.
Villanova's guards are some of, if not the best in the nation...and almost all of them return from last year's trophy-raising squad. Villanova's guards all have the green light to shoot from about anywhere...and they did. In fact, Purdue's defense on the Wildcat backcourt was decent all night. But as pressure would extend, Villanova would simply dare Purdue to come out further by shooting deeper shots. They shot nearly 42% from deep.
On the other side, Villanova's only real recourse against Biggie and the Big Drago was to flop and hope they got the call...and it worked quite a few times. In fact, Haas had three fouls in the first half, and Biggie had three early in the second. On top of that, Edwards got into foul trouble; both he and Biggie ended the game with 4 fouls...and Matty's perpetual fear of foul outs kept Swanigan and Haas off of the floor for LARGE chunks of the second and first halves (respectively). In spite of that, Purdue was still in a good position to win the game in the closing minutes, but too many possessions for Purdue were empty, as passes sailed high over Haas time and again. But when Haas had position, he was nearly impossible to handle for the undersized 'Cats.
Playing much of the second half in foul trouble, Haas was hamstrung a bit on the glass and defensive side of the court, but still scored 18 of his 22 points in the second half. He added only three boards...but made a bit of a statement to the nation that he might be one of the nation's best centers.
Swanigan was truly great during stretches of the game...he looked resolute and was tough both on the glass with second chance buckets and off of feeds. He had 20 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists...on of them was one of the niftiest passes of the night, in the form of a wrap-round while deep in the post.
Edwards had 10 points and 8 rebounds, but was 1/5 from three, 4/11 from the field and seemed to be forcing it on offense for the whole night. He never got into rhythm, it seemed.
Purdue put itself in a deep hole in the first half, before fighting back with a faster pace than they played with all of last season...the dagger of the first half run was a three pointer as the clock hit 0:00 by Thompson from the deeper than half court off of the glass. It tied the game, but 'Nova created space yet again in the second half by hitting free throws and taking advantage of Purdue's scoreless possessions.
Purdue's FT shooting was a bit of a problem...as the good guys shot just over 63%. Conversely, 'Nova shot just under 82%...and while Villanova hit their freebies down the stretch, Purdue missed a few that proved to be important.
I didn't think Purdue would win this game coming in, and thought Villanova's horses would be too much for Purdue to handle; that wasn't really the case...Matty's boys competed. In fact, they had the opportunity to tie the game in regulation, but ended the game with a flat-out ugly possession to end the game in which they needed a three (obviously), but didn't even get a good shot off. Does blame fall on Painter and co. for not having a good play drawn up or the boys in pale gold unis for not executing? That's up for debate.
Mathias struggled versus 'Nova's talented guards on defense, and missed three free throws. Albrecht played solidly in the first half as he was a catalyst to the first comeback...but he missed a couple free throws and didn't make a ton of noise.
Purdue might have missed Taylor who will be out for a while with the injured ankle...and Cline's absence most certainly mattered...his teammates need to remind him how important it is for him not to act in a way that's going to be detrimental for the team, and more importantly, potentially deadly. His suspension was deserved and costly.
The optimist might say, Purdue was in foul trouble all night, shot their free throws poorly, didn't play their best game and was still in contention versus a top-5 team.
The realist or pessimist would counter that idea by saying a top-15 team at home should compete every time it steps on the home court, if not win each time they welcome a foe...and a loss is still a loss.
Regardless of which end of that spectrum you fall, it was a pretty entertaining contest between, what looks to be, two of the nation's best...it's one of those games that the founder of Hammer and Nails would have loved had he not retired from writing from the site last weekend.
Georgia State comes to Mackey on Friday night, but the Forces of Good missed a golden opportunity to earn a "quality win" in the eyes of the tourney committee much later in the season. Losing to a top-5 team obviously isn't the end of the world, but it might matter later. In my opinion, anything lower than a 4 seed is all but a death knell come tourney time for Matty's boys. Late this month, Purdue gets to play L'ville on the road; another chance at a quality win.